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"The Peterboro R.R. Co. toboggan slide, Jackson Park, Peterborough, Ontario / La glissade pour toboggan Peterboro R. R. Co., dans le parc Jackson, à Peterborough (Ontario)" by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A Case for Parks in a Pandemic

Written by
Robert Gibson
and
February 16, 2021
A Case for Parks in a Pandemic
"The Peterboro R.R. Co. toboggan slide, Jackson Park, Peterborough, Ontario / La glissade pour toboggan Peterboro R. R. Co., dans le parc Jackson, à Peterborough (Ontario)" by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After months of protest in the community, a firehall will not be built in Inverlea Park. In January 2021, Peterborough’s city councillors voted to remove Inverlea park for consideration. However, parks are at risk throughout the City of Peterborough as there is more pressure to develop on or near park space as the city grows. The extension of The Parkway, as well as housing and institutional development might each impact green space. Before parks disappear, urban planners and politicians should consider these questions:

  • Is there a link between pandemics and the loss of parks? 
  • Are park spaces at risk? 
  • Does access to park space reduce pandemics and what might happen if they become inaccessible or disappear? 

According to the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, in the “Value‑for‑Money Audit: Conserving the Natural Environment with Protected Areas,” only 0.003% of land was added for protection across Ontario over a period of five years. In addition, the report stated that most of Ontario’s biodiversity is in Southern Ontario.

In the article “Wildlife scientist says preventing next pandemic depends on protecting nature”, Dr. Justina Ray, Chief Scientist and President of the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada, said that "frankly in Southern Ontario, the condition of our nature is not particularly fantastic. We’ve allowed a lot [of] environmental degradation over the past century. Our forest and wetland cover is a shadow of what it [sic] used to be." Phil Beard, General Manager of the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority, said “…it doesn’t matter where you are, safeguarding nature is one of the most important things we can do to reduce the future infectious disease outbreaks from wildlife.” 

There are reports such as Strengthening protected areas to halt biodiversity loss and mitigate pandemic risks which make the case that improving protected areas will reduce biodiversity losses and reduce the risk of pandemics. The authors write that “ecosystem disruption and subsequent biodiversity loss are related to the emergence of infectious zoonoses worldwide” (p.35). While park space is a broad term there are ecosystems that are being lost on the landscape which are included in some park spaces, such as wetlands. The Government of Ontario has made it easier to pave over wetlands and other habitats with Minister zoning orders (MZO), without public input or municipal planning rules. A prominent example includes a development on the lower Duffin's Creek wetland complex, a provincially significant wetland, which will reduce established ecosystems and biodiversity. In Peterborough the Canoe Museum was approved to be built in Johnson Park and on the Trent Campus there are concerns about habitat loss related to the recently approved Trent Lands and Nature Areas Plan. In addition to this, Reimagine Peterborough members wrote that Peterborough is “25% below” its targets for park space. 

It is clear that park spaces are at risk in Peterborough and there are scientific reports which link biodiversity loss to pandemics which can occur depending on the type of park.

In the article From the inside out to the outside in: Exploring the role of parks and protected areas as providers of human health and well-being, the authors write about the health benefits of park spaces, which include, physical locations for exercise and improvements to mental health. Both of these are important especially as gym facilities are closed and health facilities have reduced in person services due to pandemic restrictions. Parks may be one of a few places where social distancing is possible while exercising. 

Between scientific reports linking biodiversity loss to pandemics and the current pressures to reduce park spaces, there may be a link between park space and COVID-19. In part 2 of this article, similar sized municipalities will be examined to see if municipalities that have more park access also have fewer cases of COVID-19.


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